I recently partook of a story that involved a group of kids at some prestigious school. The kids find out that they can’t leave the school and the faculty is mysterious and claims to only want the students to fulfill their full potential or something and all the kids seem to be gifted or special in some way and there is clearly more to the school than meets the eye.
Amazingly all of the above can apply to either the amazing comic book series Morning Glories or to Cartoon Network’s new live action show Tower Prep. I watched the first episode of the show and figured I’d write up my impressions since its at least tangentially comic book related.
First of all I admit that I am very biased. I HATE the idea of a show like this being on Cartoon Network at all. Count me among those who remembers a time when Cartoon Network said they would only play cartoons “forever and ever and ever until the end of time,” and wishes the network would go back to that standard. Their live action attempts thus far have been pretty terrible, and I don’t see why they continue to sink time and money into these projects.
So when I saw that this show was going to be on Cartoon Network I was already against it. But the premise sounded interesting enough to win me over into checking it out (and the fact that Paul Dini created it helped a lot). And as much as I hate to admit it, it’s not a bad show. The first episode did its job introducing the main characters, the challenges they are facing, and the environment. It also introduced some mysteries to keep viewers coming back for more. The plot of the episode was pretty standard pilot fare and I can’t remember ever really being surprised by it.
The acting was passable, although I felt many of the characters had very flat personalities (a problem that could easily be resolved as the series continues I suppose), especially Ian’s bullying roommates. The show did a lot of telling us about what the main characters were like rather than showing us, and that’s a big no no from storytelling 101. Of our four main students I liked Suki the best. She also has the most interesting gift of those we have been introduced to and I already have some thoughts on how they will make use of it down the line.
I felt like this show was trying to give me a sort of Lost vibe, with a group of people stranded and up against something far bigger than themselves with only their wits to help them. But the problem is that this is a kid’s show. I don’t really feel the same stakes as I did with Lost. None of the main characters are going to get killed off and I can’t see the big reveal of what’s really going on being all too shocking. There certainly won’t be anything like the shocking ending of the first issue of Morning Glories (which had a similar pilot structure introducing kids, a school, and mystery). There wasn’t anything that made me feel like the stakes were high. Sure the kids want to leave the school, but why? Other than the fact that the “evil” adults are telling them that they can’t. I didn’t see any indication as to why they didn’t feel safe or what might happen to them if they don’t get away. They’ll have to go to classes I guess…the horror! I get that they are scared and being kept in the dark about details, but I didn’t feel real concern for the characters or even motivation to root for them because I didn’t have anything concrete to root for them against.
At the end of the program I was left feeling like, “Huh…well that was a show alright.” I don’t have a burning desire to see more or to get answers to the lingering questions. I’m not sorry I watched it and I suppose I could see myself watching some more of it if I’m really bored or happen to stumble upon it, but I’m not chomping at the bit for more Tower Prep.
If you like the premise of this show, do yourself a favor and pick up Morning Glories. Most of the things that are interesting about Tower Prep are in Morning Glories and for me are done much better. But if it sounds interesting, check it out. At worst you waste a little of your time, but you might find that you enjoy it.
UPDATE: Yeah I wrote this article after watching the first episode and now I think they are on like 6 or something. I’m not exactly a timely poster… But if you are interested a very nice interview with Paul Dini and a bunch of the writers can be found here.